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The Back Page
Apple’s Tim Cook All But Screams “iPod Super Touch!”
Wednesday, April 22nd, 2009 at 8:29 PM - by Bryan Chaffin
For months now, I've been convinced that Apple is going to release an iPod Super Touch, and that this would be the company's answer to the netbook craze. After listening to Apple's quarterly conference call today, I've never been more sure of this.
In every conference call, at least three analysts ask about unannounced products (always rebuffed, bless their persistent little souls), and the hot topic for the last two or three quarters has been the Great Netbook Question. When will Apple release a netbook? What are you going to do about the exploding netbook category? When is Apple going to drop the price on Macs in order to compete with these shitty netbooks?
OK, I added the gratuitous profanity, but these are the kinds of questions Apple is often asked by analysts, especially the ones who don't get Apple or how and why the company is able to make money not doing things the Wintel way.
Last January, for instance, Apple COO Tim Cook told analysts, "We're watching [the netbook space]. Right now from our point of view, the products in there are principally based on hardware that's much less powerful than we think customers want, software technology that is not good, cramped keyboards, small displays, etc."
"We don't think that people are going to be pleased with those type of products," he concluded, but he then hedged with a, "but we'll see. We are watching the space. About 3% of the PC industry last year was in this netbook kind of category. So it's a category we watch."
In other words, existing netbooks suck, Apple won't make a sucky product, but the company is looking for other ways to meet this demand.
Since then, netbook unit sales have exploded, a point Mr. Cook made himself when he pointed out that Apple's Mac unit sales declined 3%, whereas the market as a whole declined 7%. Netbooks, Mr. Cook said, "are really propping up [those] unit numbers from the industry as a whole."
Let's get back to the iPod Super Touch -- I don't think that's what it will really be called, but it works to instantly convey what I mean, which is a device with a touchscreen that runs iPhone Software that is larger than current iPods, probably in the 7-10" range.
Firstly, we have persistent reports coming from the sieve-like Taiwanese manufacturers about orders for touchscreen LCDs, orders for unannounced devices, and the Wall Street Journal report about orders for a 9-10" touchscreen device.
|"Of course, if we find a way where we can deliver an innovative product that really makes a contribution, then we'll do that. We have some interesting ideas in the space." |
- Tim Cook
Now let's look at what Tim Cook said today when Barclay's analyst Ben Reitzes asked what Apple was planning for the netbook space. Mr. Cook first rehashed what he said back in January (crappy software, small displays, cramped keyboards, and junky hardware). When he looks at the devices currently on the market, he said they are, "not something that we would put the Mac brand on," and, "It is a segment we would choose not to play in."
Seems pretty cut and dry, no? No Apple netbook!
Not so fast, because he then launched into Operation Wiggleroom and Fancy Wordplay: "We do look at the space and are interested to see how customers respond to it. People that want a small computer, so to speak, that does browsing and e-mail might want to buy an iPod touch or they might want to buy an iPhone."
Again, on the surface he's saying that iPhones and iPod touches are netbooks, and indeed I've spoken to analysts who say that both devices are being bought by people who are looking for a netbook-like device.
"So, in that particular way, we play [in the netbook space on] an indirect basis," he added, and then there's the crucial line: "Of course, if we find a way where we can deliver an innovative product that really makes a contribution, then we'll do that. We have some interesting ideas in the space."
To me, that's the Tim Cook equivalent of Steve Jobs saying there would be no video iPod ("It's about the music, stupid") a few months before Apple released the first video iPod. Mr. Cook all but screamed that Apple has a device in mind that meets the need for people to do e-mail and surf the Web, and it's not going to be a netbook.
Furthermore, Mr. Cook is telegraphing to anyone who will pay attention that Apple intends to create a new class for this device, one that is far above these lowly, so-called "netbooks." [Spit!]
Mr. Cook talked about how netbooks have small displays and cramped keyboards. An iPod super touch wouldn't have a cramped keyboard, it would have a nice, large virtual keyboard. Display quality would likely be a supersized version of the very high-resolution displays used in the iPod touch and iPhone.
As for crappy software, the App Store has already proved a HUGE hit and a major attractor of top-notch developers. It's easy to think that Apple could do for an iPod Super Touch what it did for iPhone and iPod touch, and thus the company licks all of the problems it is identifying about the existing markets.
I've been convinced Apple would release an iPod Super Touch just from the standpoint of logic for many months, but I think Mr. Cook's comments today make that crystal clear, at least if you understand how the company does things. I expect at least a couple of analysts to get it wrong in the coming days, but I think we'll have the proof in the pudding later this year, perhaps as early as WWDC in June.
I think Apple is going to want to announce it then so that developers can start working on iPod Super Touch apps, even if the device won't ship for another few months.
Follow me on Twitter @TMOBryan.
Bryan Chaffin began using Apple computers in 1983 in a high school BASIC programming class. He started using Macs in 1990 when the Kinko’s guy taught him how to use Aldus PageMaker, finally buying a Power Computing Power 100 in 1995. Today, Bryan is the Editor of The Mac Observer, and has contributed to the print versions of MacAddict and MacFormat (UK).
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